A VOID
April 16, 2019 11:15 AM   Subscribe

A Common Policy, Anna Aslanyan writing at LRB Blog
La Disparition, a lipogrammatic classic, turns 50 today [29 March 2019]. You probably know who it’s by; if not, you can look it up to find out why I’m unwilling to say who did it. From its first publication on 29 March 1969, this book built a cult following. It’s primarily famous for what’s missing from it, a basic but important thing that forms a part of words you can’t usually do without. Staying strictly within this tight constraint, it says what it wants to say about its protagonist, Anton Voyl, and his vanishing act – a conundrum for his companions – in a grippingly ludic, rigidly formulaic way.
posted by the man of twists and turns (75 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am a big fan of Oulipo and all things Oulippian! I click a plus sign for this FPP, gladly!
posted by chavenet at 11:20 AM on April 16 [8 favorites]


Too bad you guys didn't own sock accounts for this post.
posted by straight at 11:21 AM on April 16 [9 favorites]


eeeeeeeeee!
posted by Earthtopus at 11:23 AM on April 16 [28 favorites]


Worldtopus, watch it!
posted by nobody at 11:26 AM on April 16 [18 favorites]


Sadly, various structural constraints insist on immovability: tags, s/n, outbound links: all fix'd.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:27 AM on April 16


Flagging as incorrect way to talk in discussion of this post, 'topus!
posted by straight at 11:30 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


straight: "Too bad you guys didn't own sock accounts for this post."

As with author, so with a post. You can only mask what's infra, not block it out.
posted by chavenet at 11:30 AM on April 16


👏👏👏
posted by sjswitzer at 11:30 AM on April 16


[scoonching up my brow mondo hard] book ... odd. book is fuckin' odd and ... difficult
posted by Greg Nog at 11:31 AM on April 16 [12 favorites]


If you should want additional books that find a similar path, you might try this bit of writing.

It is known subtitularly as "A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable" which is such a good turn of words that I think it warrants using that bit of writing that many in this discussion omit.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:41 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


Flagging as incorrXct way to talk in discussion of this post, 'topus!

You talk just as poorly, straight.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:43 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


Funny how many columnists just can't resist using _La Disparition_'s constraints in writing about it.

(You probably know why I didn't format _La Disparition_ with italics.)
posted by straight at 11:44 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


Funny how many columnists just can't rXsist using _La Disparition_'s constraints in writing about it.

So many. Also, i within <s works for italics.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:46 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


>You talk just as poorly, straight.

Ack! "WRONG" I was saying "wrong" in my thoughts. But in typing, got it wrong. This is too hard.
posted by straight at 11:47 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


Sigh. I quit.
posted by straight at 11:48 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


You know, I was going to come in here and try to do some stupid version of "This Is Just To Say" with no "e" in it. But screw it.

I have to say, when I read A Void for the first time I nearly lost my mind.

I was already a fan. I understood how difficult La Disparation must have been to put together. I understood, intellectually, how incredibly, impossibly difficult it must have been to translate and maintain the restriction. I read it in translation and felt stupid for doing it, and then I didn't feel stupid for that anymore, I just felt like there were minds out there that were so entirely beyond mine that to consider myself merely stupid was a wast of time.

And then I read it again and again because the thing is it utterly beyond words--even just on the surface. It masquerades as a traditional noir mystery in which someone (Anton Vowl(!!)) has gone missing and everyone is trying to figure out what happened and, in fact, what is actually missing in the world. But we know what it is. It's "e".

So at one moment the characters decide to look at Vowl's world to see if anything is amiss. They look at some works of literature that have been copied out by Vowl. And Perec (and in this case his translator Gilbert Adair) have created versions of these famous works that are perfect recreations of tone and style and content, but also follow the constraint. There's a version of Hamlet's soliloquy called "Living, or Not Living" ("Living, or no living: that is what I ask:") and a version of Ozymandias by "PBS" and there is a full length version of The Raven called "Black Bird" by "Arthur Gordon Pym" (one of Poe's pseudonyms).

And just to give you a sense of how incredible this is, I'm going to quote just the last stanza here, because it's a rare moment where Perec and Adair reach through the text and give themselves a little high five:

"And my Black Bird, still not quitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On that pallid bust -- still flitting through my dolorous domain;
But it cannot stop from gazing for it truly finds amazing
That, by artful paraphrasing, I such rhyming can sustain --
Notwithstanding my lost symbol I such rhyming still sustain --
Though I shan't try it again!"


People will tell you that Life: A User's Manual is Perec's masterwork. I say, you have to read A Void. Just read it. You won't be sorry.
posted by The Bellman at 11:49 AM on April 16 [41 favorites]


(old law of discussion: you will always commit typos in calling out typos)
posted by straight at 11:51 AM on April 16 [7 favorites]


Now think about doing a full book of this. All that looking, and looking and looking again, to find but a solitary slip-up in all of it. My mind cannot think of it. Nowadays, a lazy author can crtl-f, but not in past days!
posted by Rock Steady at 11:54 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Now think about doing a full book of this.

Perhaps a manual clickity-clack with a wrong symbol not functioning? If author sought wrong symbol, it would only thud, not show up.
posted by LizardBreath at 11:58 AM on April 16 [7 favorites]


this column's natural fluidity, within such constraints, is astounding. i couldn't match a word of it if i sought to. bravo!
posted by pmdboi at 11:59 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


PXrhaps a manual clickity-clack with a wrong symbol not functioning? If author sought wrong symbol, it would only thud, not show up.

If typing on a PC, try gluing a sharp thumbtack, point upwards, to any button you wish not to hit. You will quickly know to avoid it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:06 PM on April 16 [6 favorites]


How apt: we're going to see a dance performance of C. Bök's lipogrammatic Eunoia tonight
posted by scruss at 12:10 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


straight, only basic tactic: not to play.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:12 PM on April 16 [9 favorites]


If you thirst for dazzling daily lipogrammatic hijinks, I'd point you towards oulipo.social, a mastodon instantiation that has this particular constraint built into its fabric. Sign up today!!! (My particular brand of bullshit.)
posted by phooky at 12:14 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


"If typing on a PC, try gluing a sharp thumbtack, point upwards, to any button you wish not to hit. You will quickly know to avoid it."

You could also pour a liquid onto button for similar condition, or simply discard button from board.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:28 PM on April 16


Is this something only the L33t would understand?
posted by mono blanco at 12:42 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


> eeeeeeeeee!
first backtalk at that blog post:
Few pens ever exceeded G. Perec's - steep were the letter-bereft tests, yet, he bested them! Clever expert - he deserves endless cheers, ever renewed. PS Left, dejected, speechless re: Perec's Eng.-renderer.
posted by farlukar at 12:48 PM on April 16 [13 favorites]


"If typing on a PC, try gluing a sharp thumbtack, point upwards, to any button you wish not to hit. You will quickly know to avoid it."

You have no idea how clumsy a stupid-high tolerance for pain can make a human being.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:54 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


If you thirst for dazzling daily lipogrammatic hijinks, I'd point you towards oulipo.social, a mastodon instantiation that has this particular constraint built into its fabric. Sign up today!!! (My particular brand of bullshit.)
And if that's not your thing, try dolphin.town, its natural companion!
posted by phetre at 12:55 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


I’m post-consuming
a plum or two
I found in an
icy spot

and which
you’d probably
want
for morning dining

Pardon
‘twas all flavorful
so akin to candy
and so cold
posted by dywypi at 12:56 PM on April 16 [26 favorites]


Tap hard on button, if you wish to quickly study, UM!
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:57 PM on April 16


I put contact poison on any button I wish to avoid. (It works, but as I am, alas, both clumsy and mortal, I am not now living. So I find all typing a bit difficult.)
posted by kyrademon at 12:57 PM on April 16 [5 favorites]


Now think about doing a full book of this. All that looking, and looking and looking again, to find but a solitary slip-up in all of it. My mind cannot think of it. Nowadays, a lazy author can crtl-f, but not in past days!

Rumor has it that this author hid a turn from his own law in his book.

I found it, and all who look at A Void or La disparition can spot it.
posted by Kattullus at 1:14 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Kattullus, you are a Satan!
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:40 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]




for long I am wanting to (omg this is hard) own such works, to drink of such words. thus I go to biblio.com to rid my hand of cash for this thing (such poor options to clarify my actions!) ugh...
posted by supermedusa at 2:10 PM on April 16


What idiosyncratic list of words can I construct that contains nada of the invalid sigil or mark or symbol? OMG not trivial.
posted by sammyo at 2:17 PM on April 16


I coulda won that word construction buzzing bug
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:19 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I found that list of community laws for Oulipo.mastodon fairly amusing. Thank you for sharing it. What a hobby!
posted by eirias at 2:29 PM on April 16


As a youth, I was curious about this difficult task and took a try at it. Alas, frustration was my only output.
posted by merriment at 2:36 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I had no complaints about this post's composition right up until "[more inside]".
posted by subocoyne at 2:38 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Lots of months past, I caught a skit with a club for 1-bit words. It kept this law for its full script (and I'll add our first law). "Join our club for 1-bit words," it said. "You know a word of that kind wins out in fights with a word that has lots of bits."

[It was actually a Cambridge Footlights radio sketch from the 1970s performed by, I think, Eleanor Bron. The section I've paraphrased above actually went: "We are the club for one-bit words. 'Cos we think they are more good than words that are more long." The staccato rhythm there has ensured it stuck in my mind ever since.]
posted by Paul Slade at 2:53 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I think I will avoid this.
posted by 3.2.3 at 3:06 PM on April 16


Just as A Void lost nothing from its publishing or printing firm using a not unusual symbol in a Formal Mark, so this post's author should brook no complaints about "[more inside]".
posted by Fraxas at 3:10 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


> 1-bit words
Signifying singularly monosyllabic discussion?
posted by farlukar at 3:11 PM on April 16


my waking hours
i pass with joy
without that fifth
glyph i avoid

but oft i nap
most fitfully
it haunts my thoughts
that awful 'e'
posted by pmdboi at 3:13 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


The Bellman: "a wast of time"

this community has a visual on what's occurring at this point.
posted by chavenet at 3:24 PM on April 16


Now, you all might hazard that "A Void" cut a significant chunk off its publishing costs by using only 25 glyphs. You'd think that-- but think again! Poor G. P. actually had to pay six thousand dollars on top of Gallimard's usual printing costs. It turns out that this company was surcharging authors who didn't attain a good glyphic distribution for "compositor opportunity costs". What a rip! Luckily G. P. had backing from an anonymous but fabulously rich apiarist who got him in print. But what tit did G. P. switch for that tat? Nobody knows! G. P. is a ghost, and that donor has long flown his coop... or shall I say his apiary?
posted by phooky at 3:30 PM on April 16 [5 favorites]


FTA: vivid imagos (‘your nights without 40 winks, your connubials without 69’);

You can't just make imago mean "image" or "metaphor" or "turn of phrase" by wanting it to. It means adult form of an insect, or, at its most metaphorical, a parental-figure role model.

#entomology #neversurrender
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 3:32 PM on April 16 [6 favorites]


It is fairly hard to avoid that symbol in writing, but it is particularly difficult to do so and sound natural too. On top of all that, translating a work originally in Français with this particular constraint? It's an outstanding triumph that only a polyglot could accomplish.
posted by Paragon at 3:34 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


Just as A Void lost nothing from its publishing or printing firm using a not unusual symbol in a Formal Mark, so this post's author should brook no complaints about "[more inside]".

This is a fair point. An automatic html addition should not count as a mark against an author's work.
posted by subocoyne at 3:51 PM on April 16


vry nic
posted by senor biggles at 3:58 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


Is this voidᴟd?
posted by meehawl at 3:59 PM on April 16


Hi sorry I'm latish
posted by oulipian at 4:13 PM on April 16 [7 favorites]


Wait, what about the whole book he wrote that was a palindrome? Did I get that wrong?
posted by Oyéah at 4:16 PM on April 16


Not latish, just fashionably tardy!
posted by phooky at 4:19 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Oh! This is a good post for MF to FIX MY INQUIRY:

So, a long span back, I was in a library at Pompidou in Paris, and found a singular book: a fax of G. P.'s working books for La V. (his Manual). Facing any folio in handwriting: a typographic composition of that folio! It was so amazing; looking for it from that day forward. Any hints?
posted by phooky at 4:49 PM on April 16




I can't find it on the WWW right now, but I own a copy of a black-and-gray photo of this Oulipian author insulting a church official. It's full of dignity and snark, worthy of admiration.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 6:47 PM on April 16


THAT IS IT. Many, many thanks, B-man!
posted by phooky at 6:56 PM on April 16


My pleasure. MeFi is a wonderful place.
posted by The Bellman at 7:16 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Taking this in, my thoughts go in unusual and intriguing ways trying to suitably find words. Thanks for this post, man of twists and turns.
posted by Lexica at 7:43 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


to consider myself merely stupid was a wast of time
I think I know your goal with this.
posted by rongorongo at 11:46 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


A most illuminating blog-post: many thanks for linking to it! I don't still own a copy of A Void but look back fondly on what a joy it was to scan through. I also bought La Scomparsa (an Italian translation of this opus - as Aslanyan points out) during a sojourn in Italy's capital, but that too got lost in a library slim-down prior to my moving from this or that location. Has any author sought to surpass La Disparition during our last fifty solar orbits? I don't know of any.
posted by misteraitch at 6:34 AM on April 17


Has any author sought to surpass La Disparition during our last fifty solar orbits? I don't know of any.

To outdo G. P., omit first two vow'ls, not just fifth symbol. Doubtful this could go on long.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:59 AM on April 17


To outdo G. P., omit first two vow'ls, not just fifth symbol. Doubtful this could go on long.

O RLY?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:00 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


It is truly difficult.
posted by farlukar at 8:24 AM on April 17


Wait, what about the whole book he wrote that was a palindrome? Did I get that wrong?

I don't know if that was all of a book, but our author pal did find a way to put a thousand-plus words in such a format. Voir ici
posted by jontyjago at 9:00 AM on April 17


A young man from Boston would say it:
"My dick is so long I can play it!"
Anon adding, forlorn,
Looking down at his horn,
"If my nostril was horny, I'd lay it..."
posted by the_blizz at 9:10 AM on April 17


r/AVoid5 is also a forum for folks who voluntarily follow this constraint (although usually not so skillfully). Its unusual capitalization is an allusion to this work.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:24 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Signifying singularly monosyllabic discussion?

Pertinent observation: entirely accurate.
posted by Paul Slade at 10:03 AM on April 17


I cannot believe that nobody has mentioned what Perec did for an encore: Les Revenentes, a short story of debauchery and theft, in which the only vowel is the letter 'e'. And which was translated into English (by Ian Monk) as 'The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex'.

It's hard to read. The single vowel sound hammers at the inner ear like the squawks of a thousand starlings.
posted by Hogshead at 3:13 PM on April 17


When we see "The Exeter Text", we expect mere cleverness. Descend deeper, squeeze the essence: "The Exeter Text" bleeds red. The theft, the embezzlement, the sex -- these elements breed excess even when the keenest, the shrewdest, the cleverest eye the screed. These "defects" reflect the repellent sphere where we dwell, the wrecked scene. We see the mess we've engendered.

We esteem the text, we deem the themes excellent.
posted by kyrademon at 2:08 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


Now, that's what I call a vowel movement.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:46 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


My way of complying with this constraint is to buy a laptop with a fruit on it.
posted by zamboni at 9:09 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


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